Bridgton’s Rufus Porter Museum of Art and Ingenuity is in the early stages of adding a third building to display 22 wall murals and serve as a community gathering space. Kristen McNerney / Lakes Region Weekly

As the Rufus Porter Museum of Art and Ingenuity in Bridgton wraps up its season next month, Executive Director Karla Leandri Rider will be busy at work planning for next summer’s anticipated expansion.

Plans call for the addition of a third building to the museum site at the intersection of Main and Church streets. The museum hopes to break ground next summer on the new building, which will house 19th century murals attributed to Porter’s nephew, Jonathan Poor. The murals come from the home of 19th century Boston physician James Norton, Leandri Rider said.

The museum’s existing two buildings showcase Porter’s 19th century miniature portraits, murals and inventions as well as a gift shop and an exhibit currently on display about women’s suffrage in connection to art and innovation.

Rufus Porter, ca. 1872, photographic print by an unidentified photographer. File

“We’re very lucky to have these two historic homes,” Leandri Rider said of the abutting buildings – one of which was transported from North High Street in 2016. “That being said, we do not have a lot of space.”

The new building will also provide community space, she said, much like what’s planned for the renovated Nathaniel Hawthorne house in Raymond.

“It is well known in Bridgton that there is very little public space,” Leandri Rider said. “We want to have something where the public can come in and do their own thing.”

The timing of the addition will depend on private fundraising, all to be determined by construction costs, Leandri Rider said. The building also has to be approved by the Maine Historic Preservation Commission.

The 16-year-old museum offers a glimpse into the life of Porter, a 19th century self-taught folk art muralist and inventor who lived in Bridgton during childhood. Porter is known for creating the magazine Scientific American, New England-themed landscapes and a number of inventions, including the revolving rifle, an idea sold to Samuel Colt for $100.

“Porter contributed to the modernization of American society in the antebellum age through his dogged efforts in diverse fields,” said independent museum curator Laura Sprague in advance of a 2020 Bowdoin College exhibit on Porter.

While grappling with space concerns, especially during the pandemic when social distancing is encouraged, engagement in the museum has remained.

Porter invented and marketed this Plumb and Level Indicator in the mid-1840s. Luc Demers

This summer the museum oversaw more programming with children, Leandri Rider said. Out on the lawn, kids were taught how to make invisible ink, something Rufus Porter wrote about in his 1820s publication “Curious Arts,” which told readers how to replicate everything he discovered.

“Nothing he ever did was secret,” she said of Porter, who wanted to share his artistic and scientific inclinations with the world in his time.

The museum aims to carry out Porter’s legacy, Leandri Rider said, while instilling creativity in contemporary minds.

This was the fourth year the museum sponsored a scholarship for Camp Invention, a weeklong program for kids at Stevens Brook Elementary School.

“Rufus Porter would not want anyone to be left out of this process,” Leandri Rider said of providing access for all to the arts and sciences.

Porter was also a lover of nature, seen in his landscapes of Portland, she said. Connections to nature were carried out by the museum this year in a secret garden tour, where participants received a map of a number of private gardens in town that they could drive to and visit. Usually, the program is a “mystery history house tour” but the museum had to move away from indoor activities in light of the pandemic.

Before the season is up, one thing Lakes Region residents can take advantage of is Smithsonian magazine’s annual Museum Day this Saturday Sept. 18, in which a number of arts and cultural institutions offer free admission. The Rufus Porter Museum is participating and is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Usually the museum charges $8 for admission.

For more information on the museum and Rufus Porter’s legacy, visit the museum’s website.

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